José F.A. Oliver
HE-MOON AND SHE-MOON
To write and eying words, to eye them, like the trackers raise the hidden hunt and to be the hunted, pursued relentlessly by letter-accomplices. Pace of words without repose, track of prints, pasturing of rest: To exist of words so as to be inside them. Shy and tender. Tender and calm like fingertips that caress strange skin. Today, which is already tomorrow, I am searching for my tongues.
Mondzunge, lengua luna, moon-tongue. Those day-falls of pale lights and shades, which became familiar nights and moons, pale lightrivering of the sky, remain close to me. There was a house of two houses. Two houses like two cultures. A house with two floors and a lullaby of nonwords melted the rhythm of uncertainties and two languages. Open doors and windows into forgotten voyages. The Alemannic dialect of the first floor, the Andalusian of the second. In-between steps without gender and the beginning of a game. Draft of the gender game. The bodies of the words, their souls. Only a few steps separating she-moon and he-moon, la luna, der Mond.
To submerge myself. Simply to dive into that current of fathers and ancestors, of mothers, at last. Breath and omen. Evidently I remain, evidently audible. To wander near the discarded, the farthest separated. To breathe between the rags of tongues and perhaps to challenge those language guards and alpha-beasts that incite me to name. I, to exist of earthen words, yearn for my languages like the host for the good friend.
My lives, so peculiarly mine, respond continuously to these nights of antecedents, sudden dawns, days of pure invention. Set pieces like tongues of earth. Biographies and remote histories resembling theatre. Monologues of satiated pleasures. Keeping me company, the worn-out wings of an interrupted play that debuts unceasingly, and, like every uninvited guest, these lives arrive to upset my world of attitudes and contradictions. Intruders on my stage of roving theatrics. Hunters of shores. Timid underground lovers like blood brothers.
Memories of a childhood in the Black Forest. Images of the time etched in the mind, summers at dusk and pitchforks of hay. Playing Fongis, after homework, jumping on haystacks at nightfall with the children on my street. The bells and their ring of prayer and the admonitions of the adults always within earshot. The continuous reprimands following and falling into bed, beaten to a pulp. The gaiety anticipated by the next reveille. The first rays of sun and fresh cut grass. The whistles of the scythes. Green-wets. The flavour of sap. Like that, day smelled of day. Like that, childhood smelled of summers in short sleeves.
Days like children. Days on light soles, where the moss, the juice of the red currants and the quince trees seduced me to forgetting. I discovered how to dream and they let me. Without truly becoming conscious, in my little-great universe, of what was dream and what would cease being one. In summer I dreamed just as I was afraid in autumn, hiding myself from those monstrous light-swallowing clouds, hurling kites at them to make myself master of peril: Young Master of Tempests before a grey canvas. But all the daring, in the end, only to bring me closer to my fears and distresses, surreptitiously to my mother’s skirt while she hung out the clothes. The wind spelling our attachment and the storm saying nothing less than protection.
The winters were of snow. Masses of snow. I haven’t stopped caressing those afternoons, closed in by its white coat. I remember descending in sleighs, the Chasms of Death and the oranges in my mittens. Smell of the south beyond the ice chute like the wakeful nights on each trip back to the little homeland bearing toward Andalusia. I remember the slices of bread with jam, confections of cherry or strawberry, laid on thick, and that ancient little heat of our glazed tile stove that let us thaw after quixotic descents through sleigh courses that we had traced ourselves, plunging downhill: “Look out below! Sausage and mashed potatoes!” – Instants of a childhood in which I was one more among them. An expert in the games of the occasion.
Still, there was someone that escaped slyly from those hidden idylls merely through his undeniable presence. Serenely surprised, and, at times, wounded. Someone who, essentially, was not of the native soil. At least, he couldn´t go unnoticed at vesper-meals of pure smoked Speck, dinner well earned after the production-line haying that brought unity and solidarity to the neighbours, who showed a disposition for mutual help never seen before, facing the August storms that loomed maliciously; or someone who didn’ t fit into the wintry landscapes with its pork-fat sandwiches, the pointed hats and the red, frozen noses. That “Someone”, no one but this One, had constructed with the lies of the time a refuge from questions and yearnings.
I had dug myself a den and I furnished it. A hospitable hideout in case the Other, which was confined in me, threatened to escape. The one that had to model a little sailor suit every Sunday afternoon, totally incomprehensible to the first, and white to top it off. Almost ready, so gallantly presented, he regarded the sight of himself with an air of embarrassment: decorated in that blue of extreme sea, that sailor-white, and covered in little gold buttons besides; becoming excessively angry, or as angry as the moment required, then suddenly, standing up straight as a stick, because he would have done anything to escape to the forest that bordered his house to play cops and robbers. Despite every resistance, Sunday went as Sundays must. Out of habit and faithful fulfilment of the tradition that was destroying the world, he was condemned to a pilgrimage with some twenty adults –though the exact number of participants is secondary– and, with his showy, southern appearance and purely immigrated stock, he played his part, grumbling or no, in the Sunday Andalusian rally of the promenading Spanish educators and their respective pupils. Vacant footbridge over rocky paths for little decorative puppets. Custom and its cultivation à la Andalusian before the amazed eyes of the Alemannic hunting village scenes. What else could he have done, the poor thing. Through experience, he knew pretty well the traitor the little Black Forest grass stain could be, ornamenting any little white suit that roved outside of its clear destination, though when he looked carefully, it seemed the light green on white background could very subtly outline the colours of the Andalusian flag.
Even then, it was impossible to avoid the impression that Sundays were pulling us gaudily toward the typical, which is to say, for the Germans, much more manifestly ehpanisch than during the week – and I use this Andalemannic word with no desire to delve into what today signifies the abstruse and unfortunate concept “to be German or to be Spanish”. Be that as it may, on the days of the Lord, the gathering –southern, heaped by dozens with their Muslim reminiscences and Hebrew preclamors– seemed to unburden itself, and it seemed it would always be so, when the Andalusian Spaniards of that little Black Forest village – whose name out of discretion I don’ t want to mention at this point – would meet each other to breathe their own air on walks with such strict speed limits, they threatened to break the record for slowness (for which they can be counted as precursors to urban speed restrictions). Imagine: an hour or more sometimes for a stretch of a hundred meters; just to take a little air and dream of eggplants; figs, red, ripe tomatoes, to dissolve along those passionate Iberian strolls the milestones lost, like the world, between Andalusia and that Black Forest hamlet (whose name out of respect I continue guarding in secret), which is to say, erasing the distance between their daily lives and their yearning for the south. Kilometer after kilometer yielded and returned home. North-less.
Always at their side, we children. Full of carefully staged duties that we couldn’t stand. Remote voices from a lacquer recording like a skipping record of ritualised niceties. Affectionatly pampered. Well prepared. They offered us sandwiches of chocolate with bananas. Sugar-water for thirst, under lovpressive kisses, caresses and fingers raised among a disturbance of hands, that gesticulated without order or concert, that more than once flew out, missed and corrected themselves quickly –delivering us exquisite ear-plums straight from the fatherland. A food-beating –not only for the first-born, whom they served dessert twice as tart-torture– which we took bitterly and felt like another tenderness from the paternal palate of the mother tongue, and yet received with no uncertain pride. They couldn’ t humilate us. Ever. The little sailor suit demanded posture. A posture of dignity.
Always at their side, we children. Sundayed, dressed and loved. We walked snivelling our heads off and carrying them more haughtily through our Alemannic Ramblas, as complete marvels passed before our eyes: stalls full of flowers, merchants selling birds, taverns, snacks and drinks, fiestas, donkeys and blind alleys. All along our Stations of the Cross we brushed the edges of a plaza, one that began to fill itself with friends, relatives, and uncountable dead as we turned and turned through the enigmatic Avenue of Memory. A Plaza Mayor whose funny stories, coincidences and passing tragedies made the old ones cry, pulled the adults into thought, and made the kids laugh. That was the chaotic struggle of San Quintin – hell in the making. (I had no idea then who that man and saint was, Saint Idon’tknowho…). All right then.
In those places there wasn’t anyone to hinder them, no one that could throw them out. Not them or their children.
I believe that we, the educatees, must have left a strange impression in the eyes of the natives as we picked up the step with obedient indifference, and, served on a silver platter, we must have presented a few fine examples, singular really, the best gems the Culture of Spanish Emigration could exhibit in those days.
Lightly indignant and stupefied at once, in the days of divine repose we moved in another caravan. Behind us dreams, ahead, phantasmagoria. Confined by languages, desires, memories, silences, recipes, and complaints, we saw ourselves suddenly pulled into the illusions and tears of the adults who we examined during the week in equally surprising incidents, when they entered or left their shifts: a savory and copious selection on the imaginary table; exotic morsels of memory like sweets, and little porcelain figurines – those daily glories completely wasted – but who on Sundays, in all their splendor, made us little and tiny little Spaniards. Time meaning nothing when the factory time-stamper stopped.
So they adorned me and exterminated me very Spanishly. They washed, groomed and perfumed me. “Heno de Pravia” they called that damned fragrance. I don’t know how many leagues it travelled on the wind. I penetrated through people and landscapes, leaving an odorless substance that brought on the ancestors, the reason we carried liters of that contraband cologne, always when we crossed the French-German border at Kehl, on our way back from Spain. Sundays I understood why. The working days, without a doubt, I couldn’ t help seeing myself changed into a chubby-cheeked Black Forest rascal who looked well fed, local and robust in Lederhosen, those short little trousers made of deer-skin, which were never to be washed, and which, apart from covering and revealing certain parts, served to clean the fat off the knives they used to cut the Speck. And not only in August.
There I saw myself again: untied and tied at once, before another distinct language that smelled of earth, which made forget the dead and which, though I would realize it much later, would reject us. Which hat to reject us. German without being German. Spanish without being Spanish. In movement: I. And, among my “Is”, consciousness.
A master of the rules of the games of the place that little by little were being seen outside of the game, just as he kept entering, dominating the rules in order to break them.
My little lair, my peculiar hideout, in those days, was under a balcony, a kind of wooden veranda, already aging and raised on stilts, that served as a lookout. My place. Behind heaps of kindling, stacked against the cold of winter:
A desk I had constructed of a few swiped fruit boxes, and paper –the tatters of paid invoices and snippets of bills that I had saved from certain death in the bonfire– and pencils. We were intimate friends. Accomplices.
Both searching for a tongue.
I and the Other.
He-moon and she-moon. Lunesa Luna Mondin. Mond.